By Whit Stiles
There’s a man here in town who has served as something of a mentor to me over the last few years. Back during the summer, we were talking about relationships, specifically friendships with other guys, and what depth looks like at this stage in life. During college, I had a number of friends in several different groups—my church friends, guys I lived with, people I played music with. But now that I was out of school, married, and working, I didn’t have the availability, either time-wise or emotionally, to invest in so many people. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to me, it was.
I got married in June of 2009 to an incredible woman. While I could use many words to describe my wife, the one that comes to mind right now is intentional. She’s always been the sort of person who would rather have 2-3 friends who know her well and hold nothing back than hordes of friends who rarely go beyond the surface. Watching Sarah share her life with others, I became acutely aware of my inward desire to be liked and, subsequently, my fear of being known. It wasn’t long before I realized that what I really wanted was to be known. The question now was, did my friends want to be known, as well?
Sitting with my mentor friend, I explained this desire and the frustration I felt over figuring out who these 2-3 guys were going to be in my life; I couldn’t tell if any of my closest friends shared my feelings and found myself in a relational stalemate. I’ll never forget what he said:
“You have to create the kinds of relationships you want to have.”
In other words, if I waited for them to come to me, I might be waiting for a very long time.
We were all made for relationships, but the truth is that relationships require work. It doesn’t matter who you are relating to—friends, a spouse, significant others, parents, co-workers. No one is capable of satisfying every expectation because, ultimately, we are all broken in one way or another and have expectations that reflect that brokenness; everyone we do life with will let us down at some point.
Some friends of mine have written a book called Relate in which they examine these different types of relationships, and what makes them work—or not work. In it, the authors, Julie Hunt and Brent Hutchinson, draw upon their experiences in social work and counseling, respectively, to paint a biblical perspective on knowing, loving, and forgiving the people in our lives. They show how our imperfections and brokenness are actually opportunities to be transformed, and that God is actively working to strengthen and restore our relationships. This truth tells me that when we, as my mentor suggested, take a step towards creating the kinds of relationships we want to have, we are stepping out in obedience. God is moving in our initiative—not just with our friends, but in all our relationships.
So I thought about my friends, and I made a decision. A few weeks later, I asked two friends—one old and one new—to sit down and have a conversation. As the sun went down over the back porch, I laid my desire to be known and to know my friends deeply on the table and, much to my relief, they agreed. For the next few hours our conversation wandered through different aspects of life, community, and personal struggle. Throughout, God was a constant presence, and there was a holy sense of satisfaction around the table. I knew in that moment that, no matter what, these guys had my back.
Don’t get me wrong—we’ve still got work to do. Life gets frantic, and it can be difficult to make time for each other. And come to find out, the more work I do on relationships, the more room I find for growth in all of my relationships. But just as my wife first modeled the power of knowing others and making yourself known, God is shining light into areas in my life I didn’t know existed. It’s worth the work.
“Relate: Knowing, loving, and forgiving the people in your life” is now available at lifeway.com, by calling 1.800.458.2772, and at the LifeWay Christian Store near you.